It had been a long morning and with Missouri’s 1 p.m. turkey hunting quitting time fast approaching, veteran turkey hunter and former longtime Hunter’s Specialties pro staffer Alex Rutledge and I were both getting a little antsy. We had covered a lot of ground, both on foot and by truck, and had not heard a gobble in nearly three hours.
Pulling into an overgrown food plot, we stepped from Alex’s truck and tossed out a few yelps. What must have been at least 300 yards away, a turkey gobbled back. We were in business. I scrambled to slide my vest on and grab my shotgun. Alex grabbed his and we headed straight into the woods. Before us the open hardwoods dropped down into a wide bottom.
I was just about to keep charging forward in order to close the gap between us and the distant tom when Alex grabbed my arm and signaled to me to hold up. He blew into the crow call he was carrying and instantly the turkey shock gobbled in reply. The bird had covered more than half the distance from where he had first gobbled. He was coming to us as quickly as I had been trying to get to him.
I have to admit, the sudden close proximity of the bird made me verge on panic, and I dropped to the base of the tree immediately to my right.
“Scoot down, scoot down there to that wide oak,” Alex whispered urging me forward carefully another 15 yards. Where I had first sat, the trees weren’t quite wide enough to totally block our outline. We would have been silhouetted against the sky as the gobbler approached from the bottom. Instead, we slid up against a wider tree with the hill more to our back. Alex yelped just a couple more times and that longbeard came running down the opposite hill and up ours, where I piled him up a mere 25 yards away. The entire hunt had lasted less than five minutes, but it offered me one of the best lessons I carry with me to this day.
Picking the right spot from which to call is crucial. Had I kept rushing forward, I would have blundered right into the approaching gobbler. Had Alex yelped instead of switching to the crow call, he might have also simply enticed the gobbler into coming quicker, before we had a chance to get set up. And had I sat right where I had dropped, particularly with Alex right behind me, we would have stood out like a sore thumb against the sky before the bird ever got into range. Here’s how to make sure you choose the right spot for your perfect setup.
Pinpoint Your Target
As soon as a gobble shatters the otherwise silent woods, you need to quickly determine the following: Where is the bird? How far away is he? Is he approaching or staying in one spot? What lies between you and the gobbler? That last one can be important because if there is a wide creek or river between you and the tom or a thick tangle of briars or grown up clearcut, you may have to work your way on to the same side of the obstruction as the turkey. Many times, gobblers will be reluctant to cross such terrain features.
As mentioned, it’s also vital to determine how far away the turkey is. Wind, rain, hills and foliage can all impact how well you can accurately hear a gobble and use that sound to determine where a turkey is. If any of those are at play, a turkey that would sound 150 yards on a clear day, may be twice as close when wind, rain or other noise or physical obstructions are limiting the sound. Determining how far the bird is and whether or not he is moving toward you, will tell you how much time you have to get setup and/or if you need to make a strategic move on the gobbler.
Stay or Go?
In most cases, as soon as you hear a gobble, you are going to want to close the distance between you and the turkey. But don’t just take off pell-mell through the woods. Go at least a quarter of the way toward where you think the longbeard might be and then hit him again, but this time with a locator call; particularly if he fired quickly back on a hen call just moments before. If he doesn’t respond, then use the call that he answer to before, but do so from next to a tree suitable for sitting against should you need to drop to the ground for a quick setup.
If the tom is still where you first heard him, keep moving forward some more. If has begun coming your way, now it’s time to assess exactly how to play this guy.
Take a Seat
If possible, it’s always best to set up where you will already be in shotgun range when the gobbler first steps into sight. If a tom is in a field, set up off the field in the woods to make him enter the woods in search of what he thinks is a hen. Other good setup points are just off a break in a ridge, a bend in a road or just off a small food plot or opening in the woods. By setting up in such spots, a gobbler is forced to come looking for the hen. For both safety and concealment, set up against a tree wider than your shoulders and taller than your head. And never try to hide in thick brush. It will only limit your ability to swing the barrel of your gun to take aim on the bird should he come in from a direction you weren’t expecting. Trust your camouflage and your ability to sit still to fool a turkey’s eyesight.
Assume the Position
Once you’re in the spot from which you hope to continue calling and soon be shooting, sit on your butt, with your knees up and your shotgun balanced on your knees, ready to shoot. If you’re right handed, angle your left shoulder in the direction from which you anticipate the turkey to approach. (If left handed, do the opposite.) This will allow you to easily swing to your left and to your right with minimal movement should the longbeard vector in from a slightly different direction. Here, you want to go ahead and position your head close to the shotgun, but don’t hunch all the way down on it. You want to be ready to shoot, while still maintaining a full field of view 180 degrees out in front of you.
Making the Shot
Here’s where it can get tricky. As the turkey approaches where he heard what he thinks is a hen, most times he’s going to come in quietly and cautiously. Listen for the sound of drumming, foot falls in the leaves or twigs snapping rather than overly focusing on gobbling. Also, never call when a turkey is in plain site of your position. He will pinpoint exactly where the sound came from, not see what he is looking for and hightail it to the next county.
Move your shotgun only when the bird’s head is obstructed by a tree. Move your gun slow and steady and as soon as the bird steps into the open, have the gun waiting on that spot, take aim (now is when you want that cheek placed firmly on the stock), and gently squeeze the trigger. Don’t lift your head to see the shot. Too many hunters make this mistake and start to lift their head before they’ve even completed pulling the trigger. As a result, they shoot high.
Now go out there and pick up your dead tom. You just pulled him into the perfect setup.